Tag Archives: Craig Ventresco

MEREDITH AXELROD, CRAIG VENTRESCO, LEON OAKLEY, ROBERT YOUNG, ARI MUNKRES (The JAZZ LIVES House Concert Series, August 24, 2014)

Two very creative souls are singer / guitarist Meredith Axelrod and guitarist Craig Ventresco — wonderful elliptical individualists who energetically and sweetly reinvent the larger musics (the plural is intentional) of nearly-forgotten times.  I’ve known and admired them for nearly a decade now, but was often slightly frustrated because they send out extraordinary music that has to battle with conversation.  I know this is a fact of playing and singing in this century, but I was involved in a little house party that featured Meredith and Craig.  And there were friends making music, too: Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, saxophone; Ari Munkres, string bass.  I asked this group if they would perform a few tunes just for you — the JAZZ LIVES audience.  They did, and here are three delicious unbuttoned but precise offerings:

NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES:

EGYPTIAN ELLA:

I’M GOING TO MEET MY SWEETIE NOW:

I wish there were some way to hear Meredith and Craig with a small cast of strolling players on a regular basis, and several ideas come to mind.

If this music appeals to you, contact Meredith at her whimsical email address, meredithanthraxelrod@gmail.com and she will respond promptly.  They love the idea of coming to your home and making merry.

Or you can check her website to see videos of the two of them in performance, to learn their current schedule, to have deep metaphysical queries answered — perhaps with more queries, but that’s metaphysics. Here is Meredith’s website, a very educational experience.

If you live near North Beach in San Francisco, in Berkeley, or Oakland, you have a good chance to see these two — and friends — on a regular basis.  But I hear the New Yorkers whimpering, “What about US?”

Good news.  Meredith and Craig will be making a brief but intense New York tour in less than two weeks, and on Saturday, September 27, they will be appearing at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn — along with Dennis Lichtman, Matt Munisteri, and Tamar Korn — for a 9 – 11:30 PM show.  Buy tickets here. Jalopy is at 315 Columbia Street, and their many-splendored website is here.

East or West, Meredith and Craig and their exalted friends make refreshing music.

May your happiness increase!

THE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF LOWER STOCKTON STREET: PROFESSORS GROSZ, OAKLEY, and VENTRESCO (August 17, 2014: Part Two)

This music gives me such pleasure that I am reposting both halves of the performance, and my original prelude:
A long time ago, when I was a college student listening to string trios, quartets, and quintets, I was told that the great groups were Thibaud-Cortot-Casals, the Budapest Quartet and Friends, the Guarneri Quartet (whom I saw several times in concert). But while I was learning my Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak, and others, I was getting deeper into small-group jazz.  And it occurred to me often that the inspired interplay I heard in the “Trout” or the “American” was no different from a record of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett boogieing their way through a blues, or the Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet, the Goodman Trio, Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the Basie rhythm section.  And in person I saw Soprano Summit, Al and Zoot, Bobby and Vic, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, the EarRegulars, and many others.
All this is long prelude to say that inspiring chamber music takes many forms. In jazz, it is always incredibly uplifting to see a very small group of musicians do two or three things at once — create communal variations out of their shared knowledge and conventions AND go their own brave ways. Courage, joy, playfulness, and beauty.
Here is some very recent evidence that stirring chamber-jazz sessions are happening all around us, with some of the finest players.  This one brought together East and West — East being Professor Grosz (Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia) and West being Professors Oakley and Ventresco from the San Francisco Bay Area.  No music stands, just swing and on-the-spot frolicking. Acoustic splendor, with two very different approaches to the guitar — in solo and accompaniment — and with Leon’s very heartfelt cornet shining a light for us all to follow. (Highlights from the 2014 Marty Grosz West Coast Tour, for the historians in the audience.)
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
SHOE SHINE BOY:
I’M CONFESSIN':
JOE LOUIS STOMP:
CRAIG’s LOWDOWN BLUES:
And here are three more performances from the second half.  The sky had grown darker outside and thus the interior lighting needed help.  The visual image is less sharp but the music remains exquisite.
S’WONDERFUL:
A very mellow KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW:
FROM MONDAY ON, a sweet conversation all the way through, with Mister Grosz bursting in to song:
May your happiness increase!

THE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF LOWER STOCKTON STREET: PROFESSORS GROSZ, OAKLEY, and VENTRESCO (August 17, 2014: Part One)

A long time ago, when I was a college student listening to string trios, quartets, and quintets, I was told that the great groups were Thibaud-Cortot-Casals, the Budapest Quartet and Friends, the Guarneri Quartet (whom I saw several times in concert). But while I was learning my Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak, and others, I was getting deeper into small-group jazz.  And it occurred to me often that the inspired interplay I heard in the “Trout” or the “American” was no different from a record of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett boogieing their way through a blues, or the Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet, the Goodman Trio, Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the Basie rhythm section.  And in person I saw Soprano Summit, Al and Zoot, Bobby and Vic, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, the EarRegulars, and many others.
All this is long prelude to say that inspiring chamber music takes many forms. In jazz, it is always incredibly uplifting to see a very small group of musicians do two or three things at once — create communal variations out of their shared knowledge and conventions AND go their own brave ways. Courage, joy, playfulness, and beauty.
Here is some very recent evidence that stirring chamber-jazz sessions are happening all around us, with some of the finest players.  This one brought together East and West — East being Professor Grosz (Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia) and West being Professors Oakley and Ventresco from the San Francisco Bay Area.  No music stands, just swing and on-the-spot frolicking. Acoustic splendor, with two very different approaches to the guitar — in solo and accompaniment — and with Leon’s very heartfelt cornet shining a light for us all to follow. (Highlights from the 2014 Marty Grosz West Coast Tour, for the historians in the audience.)
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
SHOE SHINE BOY:
I’M CONFESSIN':
JOE LOUIS STOMP:
CRAIG’s LOWDOWN BLUES:
Three more performances from the second half (after a quiet intermission) will be offered in the near future.
May your happiness increase!

AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE OF BEAUTY: CRAIG VENTRESCO at CAFE DIVINE (JULY 30, 2014)

If creativity received appropriate recognition, guitarist and musical scholar Craig Ventresco would have received a MacArthur genius grant for his work in American vernacular musics by now.

He isn’t as well known as he should be, but the people who know him value him for his singular devotion to art that would otherwise be lost, forgotten, discarded.

Craig doesn’t simply dream of vanished worlds, nor does he simply amass evidence of them. He brings them to life, playing rags, blues, stomps, hymns, marches, tangos, a slow drag or two — the melodic and rhythmic life force of an America gone by. You might find Craig in some small San Francisco eatery or more ambitious restaurant, making his way through the lovely popular music of a hundred years ago — often to people who wouldn’t know Will Marion Cook from William H. Tyers — but when the listeners pay attention, they are moved by the “old music” that sounds so good. (Sometimes he is joined by singer / guitarist Meredith Axelrod, who operates on the same principles.)

Here, Craig plays his own variations on James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE:

And a ragtime slow drag (circa 1901-3) called PEACEFUL HENRY:

These selections were recorded at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, North Beach, San Framcisco) on July 30, 2014, and they only hint at what Craig offers us so consistently with so little fanfare.

Thank you, Craig.

PEACEFUL HENRY

 May your happiness increase!

MELLOW and DIVINE: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO at CAFE DIVINE (June 15, 2014)

The final three duet improvisations by the masterful Leon Oakley, cornet, and Craig Ventresco, guitar, at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco), recorded on Sunday, June 15, 2014:

SATURDAY NIGHT FUNCTION:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND (with a particularly lovely rubato verse):

Leon and Craig will be back in their chosen spot on Sunday, July 20 — making their way, tender and brave, through the worlds of music.  Divine for sure. And the pizza was delicious.

May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE INSPIRATION: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO, IN LIVING COLOR (Part Two: June 15, 2014)

Good things happen at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California) — the food and the North Beach ambiance — but for me the best things happen on the third Sunday of each month, when the Esteemed Leon Oakley, cornet,and Craig Ventresco, guitar and banjo, improvise lyrically on pop tunes and authentic blues for two hours.  I posted four performances from their satisfying June 15, 2014, session here. I was taught as a child to share . . . so here are five more beauties, in living color both in the view and the soaring improvisations.

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (with Craig on banjo, delightfully):

BLUES IN F (nothing more, nothing less — evoking Joseph Oliver):

MARGIE (that 1920 lovers’ classic):

And two songs that make requests — one spiritual, connected to Bunk Johnson and Sidney Bechet, LORD, LET ME IN THE LIFEBOAT:

and one secular — I think of Pee Wee Russell with TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF JAZZ:

Which they do.  More Divine Music to come.

 May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE INSPIRATION: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO, IN LIVING COLOR (Part One: June 15, 2014)

Have you been? I refer to the hot chamber music sessions created by Maestro Leon Oakley and Professor Craig Ventresco — improvising on classic themes — held at Cafe Divine, 1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California, on the third Sunday of each month.

Here are the first four of a dozen treats — in living color visually as well as musically:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

MOONGLOW:

May your happiness increase!